Hong Kong men’s footballers make history with Asian Games semi-final berth

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Poon Pui-hin

2nd October 2023 – (Hangzhou) Hong Kong’s men’s football team continued their astonishing run at the Asian Games on Sunday, recording a remarkable 1-0 victory over Iran to reach the semi-finals for the first time ever. Forward Poon Pui-hin scored the decisive goal in the 47th minute, volleying home from close range to give Hong Kong the lead. It was the first goal Iran had conceded all tournament.

Prior to the match, Hong Kong manager Jorn Andersen had conceded that Iran was “on another level”, but his own side had built up momentum heading into their first quarter-final since 1958. This prompted Andersen to say he had “never seen a Hong Kong squad play like that”.

By guaranteeing a top-four finish, Hong Kong have now bettered their previous best Asian Games result since making their first appearance back in 1954. They will face Japan in the semi-final on Wednesday after the Japanese defeated North Korea 2-1.

Facing the hitherto unbeaten Iranians at the Shangcheng Sports Centre Stadium, Hong Kong made a lively start.

Left-back Sun Ming-him fired a low drive from 20 yards after intercepting a pass, but Iranian goalkeeper and captain Seyedhossein Hosseini parried it around the post.

There were plenty of chances for four-time Asian Games champions Iran. As Asia’s second-ranked national team and No. 21 in the world per the FIFA rankings, Iran was heavy favourites against 148th-ranked Hong Kong.

Iranian striker Amirarsalan Motahhari went close to netting his third goal of the tournament, but his diving header from six yards was blocked by Hong Kong goalkeeper Tse Ka-wing.

Moments before the interval, a clever pass from Sun down the left wing found Hong Kong forward Chang Hei-yin in the box, but he could not control his shot.

Yet shortly after the restart, Hong Kong shockingly took the lead. Matthew Orr headed the ball back towards goal where Poon was left unmarked to volley home. Desperate for an equaliser, Iran surged forward but luck was not on Motahhari’s side. He somehow failed to convert with a free header from two yards out. When his team did hit the target through Mohammadhossein Eslami’s thunderous close-range volley, Tse was on hand with a superb save.

Motahhari, one of Iran’s three permitted overage players, continued to miss chances which his teammates frequently created. The 30-year-old miscued again weakly with a looping header that did not test Tse.

In front of approximately 10,000 vocal Hong Kong supporters, the underdogs held on for a famous victory. With several players having been capped at the senior national team level, including defender Li Ngai-hoi, captain Wu Chun-ming and striker Orr, their heroics in Hangzhou may offer hope ahead of Hong Kong’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

A number of the Asian Games squad are expected to be called up when manager Andersen announces his selection for the two-legged play-off against Bhutan on 12 and 17 October. The first match will be held at Hong Kong Stadium, before the second leg in Thimphu at an altitude of over 7,500 feet.

Victory would see Hong Kong join Asian qualifying Group E alongside Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran.